Associated Press, May 17, 2022
Several mainstream Republican Senate candidates are drawing on the “great replacement” conspiracy theory once confined to the far-right fringes of U.S. politics to court voters this campaign season, promoting the baseless notion that there is a plot to diminish the influence of white people in America.
In some cases, the comments have gone largely overlooked given the hard-line immigration rhetoric that has become commonplace among conservatives during the Trump era. But a weekend mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that may have been inspired by the racist theory is drawing new attention to the GOP’s growing embrace of white nationalist creed.
Three weeks ago in Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters accused Democrats of trying to flood the nation with millions of immigrants “to change the demographics of our country.” A few days later in Missouri, Senate hopeful Eric Schmitt, the state attorney general, said Democrats were “fundamentally trying to change this country through illegal immigration.” And in Ohio, Republican Senate nominee JD Vance accused Democrats of trying to “transform the electorate.”
Warning of an immigrant “invasion,” Vance told Fox News Channel that Democrats “have decided that they can’t win reelection in 2022 unless they bring a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here.”
Some of the Republican campaigns denied that their statements amounted to replacement theory, but among the experts, there is little question.
Five experts on hate speech who reviewed the Republican candidates’ comments confirmed that they promote the baseless racist theory, even though the Republicans don’t mention race directly.
“Comments like these demonstrate two essential features of great replacement conspiracy theory. They predict racial doomsday, saying that it is all part of an orchestrated master plan. It’s only the language that has been softened,” said American University professor Brian Hughes, associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. “The basic story they tell is the same one we see in white supremacist chats across the internet: An enemy is orchestrating doom for white Americans by plotting to fill the country with nonwhites.”
Such a message has become a central component of the modern-day conservative movement’s appeal to voters. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly warned of an immigrant invasion on the southern border, and he was slow to condemn white supremacy throughout his presidency.
In a poll released last week, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 1 in 3 Americans believes an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gain.
In interviews with conservative national television and radio over the last year, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has called replacement theory “the Democrat grand plan.”
“I’ve got to believe they want to change the makeup of the electorate,” he told a Minneapolis-area conservative radio host last month.
In Missouri, at least two Republicans vying for the Republican Senate nomination have made similar statements more recently.
While touring the U.S.-Mexico border last month, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said that immigrants crossing over illegally were “flooding into all of the 50 states, and that includes Missouri.”
“What’s also very clear is that Joe Biden’s policies are an assault on the entire idea of America,” Greitens said. “He’s wiping out the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and he’s doing it on purpose.”
A week later, Schmitt, Greitens’ Republican rival, claimed that tens of millions of immigrants were crossing into the U.S. illegally because of Biden’s policies. He said Democrats were intentionally encouraging illegal immigration for their own benefit.
“They are fundamentally trying to change this country through their illegal immigration policy,” Schmitt told conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
In Arizona, Masters has warned throughout his campaign of a Democratic plot to transform the U.S. electorate.
“Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country,” Masters told the Patriot Edition podcast late last month. “They hope to import an entirely new electorate. Then they call you a racist and a bigot.”